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superb BD-A sound

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I favour above all the others

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match any I’ve heard

An outstanding centenary collection

personable, tuneful, approachable

a very fine Brahms symphony cycle.

music that will be new to most people

telling, tough, thoughtful, emotionally fleet and powerfully recorded

hitherto unrecorded Latvian music


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Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Piano Quintet in G minor (1895) [15:10]
Danza Característica [5:30]
A la Cubana Op. 36 (1914) [4:15]
Escenas Poeticas (2nd series) [12:56]
Aparición [2:47]
Cartas de Amor · Valses Intimos Op. 44 [3:48]
Libro de Horas (1913) [11:15]
Thomas Rajna (piano)
Alberni String Quartet (Howard Davis and Peter Pople (violins), Berian Evans (viola), David Smith (cello))
rec. Rosslyn Hill Chapel and Command Studios, London, no date given but first issued 1974
CRD 3335 [55:13]

Piano quintets tend to be massive affairs – both the Brahms and the Franck run to well over half an hour. Composers seem to feel that having got together a pianist and a string quartet they might as well give them something substantial to play. The one by Granados, however, is a much slighter affair, running to barely fifteen minutes. True, it begins as if it is going to be a massive work but a gentle, rather Schumannesque second theme then relaxes the tension after which the pace slows. The first movement continues with a fugal development, a loose recapitulation and a vigorous coda. The second movement brings a gentle, modal melody with quasi-vocal decorations. This is a really lovely piece, with the melodic line passed between the piano and the strings. The finale begins like a tarantella but has contrasting slower episodes. All the melodic material is attractive, and if the form is a bit loose, it hardly seems to matter. This would make a good opener to a piano quintet concert.

The rest of the disc is piano music and is taken from Thomas Rajna’s seven volume set of the complete piano music of Granados. There is a mixture of single pieces and short suites. The Danza Característica is not in fact particularly characteristic: a tune in thirds floats up and down over a rocking bass and a contrasting middle section stamps around and returns at the end. A la cubana begins like a habanera with a contrasting Chopinesque second theme. A middle section is very ornate indeed and the whole piece is quite delightful.

The Escenas poeticas is the second suite with that name. Recuerdo de Paises Lejanos (Memories of foreign lands) is improvisatory and evocative. El Angel de los Claustros (The angel of the cloisters) is peaceful, like Liszt in penitential mood. Cancion de Margarita (Margarita’s song) preludes at some length before singing a tiny song. Suenos del Poeta (Dreams of the poet) is notable for containing a reference to the first of the Goyescas, Granados’ finest work.

There follow two more isolated pieces. Aparición is a simple piece featuring rising and falling scales. It has a contrasting middle section with clumpy chords. Cartas de Amor is a set of three short and simple pieces, possibly intended for children. There is, not surprisingly, a touch of Schumann about them. The last is fiercer than the first two.
Libro de Horas is a set of three simple, tuneful and technically undemanding pieces. The first ambles along, the second is mysterious with a stern march in the left hand accompanying strange wanderings in the right, while the third begins with solemn chords and climaxes in a single falling semitone.

All these piano solo works, though attractive, are really only salon music compared to Goyescas. I recently welcomed a new recording of Granados’ piano trio, which he wrote at the same time as this piano quintet (review). Here we have its companion work on a reissue of a recording from 1974. This is therefore analogue, but only a barely noticeable background hiss betrays this fact. The piano is well balanced with the strings in the piano quintet and there is nothing to complain about in the recording of the piano solo works. Thomas Rajna, Hungarian-born but South African resident has recorded a good deal of twentieth century piano music and is also a composer. His Granados has always been well received, mostly recently in a reissue of his complete Granados piano recordings – though without the piano quintet – on Brilliant Classics (review ~ review). Perhaps he doesn’t have quite the last degree of zip and refinement that Alicia de Larrocha offers, but I don’t think she ever recorded these particular works. The sleeve-note, in English only, is brief and gives no dates – indeed several have proved impossible to find; Granados’ use of opus numbers also seems to have been erratic. I need to mention that you can get a coupling of the piano quintet and the piano trio together on Naxos, which is perhaps the obvious programme to go for (review) but if you like the sound of this combination of the piano quintet with some of the less well known piano pieces, then this will do very well.

Stephen Barber



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